A spoon handle – Chip carving

A spoon handle - Chip carving - Picture_1

The Woodworking Gurushows us how a wooden spoon can be transformed using simple applied carving.

A spoon handle - Chip carving - Picture_2

1. For this project, you will only need a couple of knives to get you started, a pencil and something to chip carve – it doesn’t have to be a spoon handle but I intend to focus on this as I have developed my own technique for doing so. The tools pictured here are fairly generic and readily available. You will need the following: a sheep’s foot – left – and detail knife with a nice finely pointed tip – right.

2. This particular spoon is made from sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). Usually, I prefer to chip carve into silver birch (Betula pendula) as it is a bit softer and easier on the tools, but the sycamore should hold detail well. Fruit woods with a nice tight grain can also be good timbers to try – it depends what you have available. The tools pictured here are a 25mm clip point carver from Nic Westermann and three small sheep’s foot-style blades I forged myself from silver steel, which are ground at various angles for use on different timbers.

A spoon handle - Chip carving - Picture_3

3. To start, you need to mark out a basic outline using your finger on the edge of the spoon handle, which will act as a guide. Avoid drawing the whole design at this stage as you don’t want excess pencil lines that may get smudged into the grain while carving the outline. These can be difficult to remove later.

4. Holding the detail knife – in my case, the clip point carver – like a pencil, cut the outside of the border. Starting on the outside edge of the pencil line with the blade tipped back at about 30° off vertical, make a shallow cut following the line. I find it helps to focus on a point about 5-10mm in front of the blade; this allows you to keep a
nice fluid cut moving.

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5. The next step is to make the inside cuts. Here I’m aiming to follow the same pencil line from the inside edge, effectively cutting the pencil line away by removing a tiny sliver of wood, triangular in section, again, with the blade around 30° off vertical.

6. With the outline completed, proceed to mark out for the chip pattern. Mark a line just inside the original cut line, then another one parallel to this 3mm inside it. The 3mm space between the lines is where the chips will be removed.

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7. The next step is to divide the space between the lines into a triangular pattern. I usually start at the narrowest point of the design and work the size of the triangles out from there. To keep the carving as simple as possible, use equilateral triangles. The sheep’s foot blade here is symmetrically ground from edge to spine at around 16°.

8. The aim now is to remove a tiny inverted pyramid of wood from each triangle marked in three cuts. Start with the inner row and cut from the outer point towards the middle of the handle, working to complete all the cuts down one side of the handle. An approach angle somewhere between 30 and 45° off vertical should work well here. With each cut you make, it is useful to try to visualise the tip of the blade reaching the centre of the marked triangle.

9. Next, it’s time to make the opposite cut, this time working towards the outer edge of the spoon handle. Start with the point of the blade on the point of the triangle.

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10. Pushing towards the centre of the triangle with the tip of the blade, aim towards the opposite point with the edge. Your finishing position should look something like this and the blade should drop nicely into position as it meets the cut from the previous direction.

A spoon handle - Chip carving - Picture_5

11. Where possible, I usually take the last – release – cut with the grain as, this way, I find the chips tend to come out easier and cleaner. This cut should be made with less pressure than the previous two, which were cut diagonally across the grain.

12. If all the cuts are made correctly, the chip should be released leaving behind a nice clean triangular void in the handle.

13. You can now continue up the handle until the row is complete, then repeat the process for the opposite side.

14. Using the same pencil lines as a reference, repeat the procedure for the outer row of chips. Care must be taken to complete but not overdo each cut. Retaining the wall between adjacent chips can be quite tricky to begin with.

A spoon handle - Chip carving - Picture_6

15. When all the chips are released, use an eraser or fine abrasive to remove the residual pencil marks. With the pencil lines removed, you may find that some of the chips are slightly irregular. It’s possible to tickle them up a bit with the detail knife but take care, as you may end up making the chips too big or scruffy around the edges.

16. You should end up with this kind of result – a nice zigzag effect created by the opposing chips.

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17. For comparison, here are my tools – centre – versus the generic ones. I found the larger generic tools harder to use on spoons but they will get the job done when properly honed. I use a small, fine ceramic stone to keep mine in good shape.

18. I also find that painting the handle after chip carving can help to accentuate the design and promote a more 3D appearance. I usually use artist’s acrylic but I’ve known other carvers to use oil, milk and egg-based paints, depending on personal preference.

A spoon handle - Chip carving - Picture_719. One last tip that I can offer – not used on this spoon – is to break larger chips down into three sections for removal. I remove these in six cuts. First, find the centre of the marked triangle and scribe a line out from it to each point. Then, push the tip of the blade into the centre of the large triangle following each line, holding the edge at a 30-45° angle to the face of the wood until the edge reaches the outer point. Repeat for each line, then take the three usual cuts. The initial cuts allow the wood to move slightly and offer less resistance to the blade. Three chips should be released from the one hole.

A spoon handle - Chip carving - Picture_1

Here you can see a number of different designs I have completed. Your finished design should look something like this.

One comment

  1. Timothy Wilkins

    Hi have you got any drawing or plans I could use for the chip carved spoons as I want to make some for my family for Christmas.
    Thank you so much.

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